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Found your lost purse? Good, but don't use those canceled cards

By Sally Herigstad
Published: July 19, 2013

To Her Credit
To Her Credit, Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also writes regularly for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
Ask Sally a question, or read her previous answers in the To Her Credit archive
Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear To Her Credit,
I lost my purse. The last place I remembered having it was at the mall, so I assumed it was left in a dressing room or on a counter somewhere. I can't imagine doing that, but I was carrying a lot of packages at the time.

I canceled all my credit cards and ordered new checking account numbers and checks. I spent three hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a new license with a horrible picture. Then I went shopping for a new purse, got some new clothes while I was there and finally got home, only to notice a familiar strap sticking out from under the seat. Oh, no ...

Can I just tell the banks that I found my purse, so I can keep using my cards? Or is it too late? -- Shirley

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Shirley,
I hate days like that! You did everything right when you lost your purse. When you can't find a purse, or even just one card, it's tempting want to wait a while and see if it turns up. It often does, as it did for you. On the other hand, what if it hadn't? Someone could have been on a bigger shopping spree than you went on -- and if you didn't report your credit cards missing in a timely manner, you could be stuck with the bill.

How bad could it have been? If a thief used your credit cards before you canceled them, your liability would have been limited to $50. If you have half a dozen cards, that adds up to $300. However, many card issuers waive that $50, but not all. For a debit card, if you reported it within two business days, your liability would also have been limited to $50. After two days, but less than 60 days after your statement is sent to you, your maximum loss would have been $500. After that, you could have lost everything in your account, as well as the money in linked accounts.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, your losses from misuse of your checkbook are unlimited, although state law may hold your bank responsible. If you hadn't reported lost checks immediately, however, you could have been out of luck.

Now that you've reported the cards as missing, don't try to use them. It's too late. If you do, you could have a long wait at the checkout counter, if not a visit from security personnel. Once a card is reported stolen, all the ID in your purse isn't going to convince the store to take it. That's how you would want it to work. Crooks regularly create false ID to go with checks and credit cards they get hold of.

"Cards she reported lost or stolen won't work," says Alexis Moore, a risk management consultant and credit collections expert. "If they do, watch out! That means banks or credit card companies didn't do their job."

You'll be receiving new cards in the mail soon. You may be able to get cards from your local bank faster. You're stuck with the new driver's license, I'm afraid.

To avoid trauma like this in the future, follow two simple steps. First of all, don't take so many cards with you every time you go shopping. And do you really use paper checks anymore? Sunny Kobe Cook, founder of Sleep Country USA, recommends leaving the house with just two credit cards and a $20 bill. (The second credit card is just in case one doesn't work.) The less you carry, the less you can lose.

Second, use force of habit to help you keep track of your purse. Moore says, "Always keep the purse in the same spot in the car, and do the same thing at home. Stay in a routine and stick to it even on vacation. If you're in a hotel, use the same routine for storing valuables every time -- it helps!"

See related: Your Wallet Recovery Kit